Thursday 25 March 2010


Some words are just so damned beautiful that it doesn't matter that they are obsolete, archaic and incomprehensible. You should use them anyway. Such a word is wamblecropt.

Say it. Each syllable is intolerably beautiful.


Wamblecropt first pops up in the Abecedarium Anglico Latinum of 1552, which you have doubtless read. It's a sort of early English to Latin dictionary incorporating lots of useful terms for which people might want a Latin equivalent such as "Wench always beaten about the shoulders"*. Across the page from which you find:

Wamble cropped Stomachichus
Wamble stomaked to be Nauseo
Wamblyng of stomake, or disposition, or will to vomit. Nausea

That ought to give you some idea, but if you want something more precise (or less latinate) then the OED has wamble as "a rolling or uneasiness of the stomach" and wamblecropt as being afflicted with and incapacitated by such wambling. So wamblecropt means queasy, only slightly stronger.

The odd thing about the word is that after a little citation from 1616 the wamblecropt goes into hiding and doesn't reappear until 1798 in America where it remained. The Massachusetts Spy has the line "I feel a good deal womblecropped about dropping her acquaintance". And that, my dears, is almost the end of wamblecropt. It does pop up here and there but always as a joke, always as an example of dialect word, a mickey take. For example, there was a humorous Canadian writer called Thomas Chandler Haliburton who wrote a (rather good) series of sketches in the persona of Sam Slick who says of marriage that:

The difference atween a wife and a sweetheart is near about as great as there is between new and hard cider: a man never tires of puttin' one to his lips, but makes plaguy wry faces at t'other. It makes me so kinder wamblecropt when I think on it, that I'm afeared to venture on matrimony at all.

Sam Slick uses the word, but I doubt that Haliburton did. It was fast disappearing down the chute of quaint dialect and all future uses are of the 'By jiminee I'll be wamblecropt,' averred the blacksmith quaintly variety.

Wambling, of the uncropt kind, survived far longer on these shores. Indeed wambling was a standard activity of British stomachs right up to the late nineteenth century. Here are my three favourite examples:

 [My soul] can digest a monster without crudity, a sin as weighty as an elephant, and never wamble for it.
   - Middleton A Game At Chess 1624 (because I like the sin as big as an elephant)

Vast fires subterranean... work and wamble in the bowels of the earth
   - John Goad Astro-Meteorologica 1686 (because it revives the zombie-metaphor "bowels of the earth")

Yes faith have I [been in love], and have felt your flames and fires, and inclinations and wamblings.
  - Betterton Revenge 1680 (because it's beautiful)

Incidentally, wamble can by extension mean to roll or stumble around and can be spelled with an O, making womble.

Womble cropped

*Scapularis, in case you were wondering.


  1. This is all as fascinating as ever, Inky, but we haven't had a picture of the Pope for over a week.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. That's because this week's theme is 'Shameless Promotion of Canadian Writers'.

    Inky, I think I've fallen in love with you, but I can't promise to be exclusively faithful.

  4. Don't know how to work the Pope. I shall have to pontificate a little.

  5. And to cheer you in your sick bed , Inky, here's a link:

    It's particularly pertinent given your post on names a few days ago...

  6. How do you KNOW this stuff? I really, really want to feel queasy for a while just so's I can say 'No, no more cake for me, please - I'm feeling a little wamblecropt'. Maybe I should go on a boat for a while. That always does it for me.

  7. Deborah, thank you for the love. Who were the other Canadian writers? They are a rare breed.

  8. Beats "cellar door" in a heartbeat.

  9. curious georgina24 May 2010 at 09:13

    Dogberry, sorry to comment on such an old post, but is the "wamble" in "wamblecropt" pronounced like "womble", or to rhyme with "amble"?

  10. Would have been wham-bell to begin with and then gradually changed to womble, hence the shift in spelling.
    In general spelling tells you how things used to be pronounced. The French used to pronounce the S in Paris.

  11. Thomas Hardy uses ‘wambling’ a few times in The Return of the Native : ‘I may be a poor wambling man’... etc. Which seems to suggest it had other implications by the 1800’s.

  12. Thomas Hardy uses ‘wambling’ a few times in The Return of the Native : ‘I may be a poor wambling man’... etc. Which seems to suggest it had other implications by the 1800’s.

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